Elderly Scam / Fraud Alert
Older adults are exploring the Internet on their tablets, computers, and smartphones. But their online explorations are coming with a hefty price tag and serious consequences. A study by the Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub found that adults over 60 were victims of cybercrimes and lost $650 million in 2018. Overall, Internet crime toward this age group in the United States has increased 400 percent over the past five years.
The FBI says that fraudsters target older adults because they are more likely to have good credit, own assets like a home or a car, and are generally more trusting.
Online scams have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the primary targets are people 62-years old and older, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. One COVID-19-related scam involves fraudsters pretending to be contact tracers, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Legitimate contact tracers work for state health departments and track down people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The federal agency says fake contact tracers will ask for:
- A Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number
- Your immigration status
- Payment for their services
The FTC says legitimate contact tracers do not ask for Social Security numbers, financial information or ask you to click on links or download anything.
Besides contact tracers, scammers might also pose as someone from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization or sell so-called COVID-19 home test kits that never actually arrive after you purchase them online.
If you think that you have been dealing with a fake contact tracer, check with your state health department to determine if the person is a legitimate contact tracer.
Medical Identity Theft
Now that medical records are online, scammers are finding ways to steal your Social Security number, health insurance account number, Medicare number, or other personal information.
According to the FTC, scammers take a patient’s private information to get prescription drugs, see a doctor, buy medical devices, and submit claims to health insurance providers.
Adam Levin, an expert on cybersecurity, identity theft, and fraud, said victims of medical identity theft find themselves having to pay medical bills for services they did not receive or running out of insurance coverage.
The FTC advises to carefully review your Explanation of Benefits to see if there are any claims or debt that are not yours. If you see questionable claims, contact your health insurance company as soon as possible to report discrepancies and request corrections.
Grandparents worry about their grandchildren just as much as their parents. So, when grandparents get a frantic phone call saying, “Grandma, I have COVID-19 and I’m in the hospital. Please wire me some money,” they may want to do whatever they can to help.
Security experts warn grandparents that this person is more than likely a scammer and not their grandchild. The grandparent scam has been around for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more likely for older adults to believe that grandchildren may be in trouble.
Levin says scammers will not say their name when they call, they will just say, ”Grandma” and grandparents instinctively say their grandchild’s name. “Now the scammer knows the name they can use,” said Levin, founder of Cyberscout, and author of Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves.
The FTC reports that grandparent scammers have gotten bolder and might even come to your door to collect money, supposedly for your grandchild in distress.
The FTC advises grandparents to:
- Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how compelling the so-called crisis.
- Get off the phone and call or text the person who (supposedly) called. If you can’t reach them, check with a family member, even though the scammer may tell you not to call anyone.
- If you choose to stay on the phone, verify your grandchild’s identity by asking questions a stranger could not possibly know.
- Don’t give your address or personal information to anyone who contacts you.
- Do not send cash, gift cards, or money transfers.
If you believe you have been the victim of a Grandparent Scam, contact the FTC Complaint Assistant at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Tech Support Scams
Cyber experts warn seniors to beware of unsolicited calls from anyone claiming to be from Microsoft or Apple offering tech support that you did not request.
Levin said what these scammers do is tell you that they noticed a particular problem with your computer. Then, they will tell you to go to a particular site and click on a particular link so that they can get into your computer.
The scammers will then hijack your computer and steal your sensitive information or monitor you activities using keystroke logging. They might even ask you for a credit card number and bill you for their services.
Microsoft, Apple, and other legitimate companies have tech support experts who are available when you initiate the call, but they will not call you on their own.
Google Voice Helps To Avoid Robocalls
Scammers are persistent. If they can’t get seniors online, they will carry out their schemes through the telephone. Whether you have a landline phone or a smartphone, robocalls come on a daily basis. The more widespread your primary phone number, the more vulnerable you are to spam and robocalls.
Google Voice provides a free option that helps to protect your primary number from scammers. Google Voice gives you a phone number for domestic and international phone calls, texts, and voicemails. Google says the service allows you to:
- Read voicemail transcripts in your inbox and search them like emails.
- Personalize voicemail greetings.
- Make international calls at low rates.
- Get protection from spam calls and messages.
- Block unwanted callers.
- Screen calls before you answer.
Google Voice is available for iOS, Android, and your computer. To get a free phone number from Google Voice:
- Download the Google Voice app.
- Open the Voice app.
- Sign in to your account.
- To pick your Google Voice number, tap Search. You can search by city or area code. If numbers are not available, try a nearby city or area code.
- Next to the number you want, tap Select.
- Follow the instructions. After setting up Google Voice, you can link another phone number.
With Google Voice, you no longer have to feel uncomfortable if someone asks for your number but are initially reluctant to give out your primary number. A second number given by a legitimate provider, like Google Voice, can minimize the risk of a hacker getting your personal information.